Shell announces partnership to convert ethanol into hydrogen

By Shell Brazil | September 02, 2022

Shell Brazil, Raízen, Hytron, University of São Paulo (USP) and SENAI CETIQT signed a cooperation agreement for the construction of two plants to produce renewable hydrogen (H2) from ethanol. The partnership aims to validate the production technology through the construction of two plants designed to produce 5 kg/h of hydrogen and, later, the implementation of a plant 10 times larger (44.5 kg/h). In addition, the agreement includes a hydrogen refueling station (HRS) on the USP campus, in the city of São Paulo. The buses used by students and visitors to the campus will no longer use diesel and traditional internal combustion engines but rather hydrogen produced from ethanol and engines equipped with fuel cells. Scheduled to start operating in 2023, the initiative constitutes a low carbon solution for heavy transport, including trucks and buses, with the first hydrogen ethanol fueling station in Brazil and in the world.

Hydrogen will be produced from ethanol in an innovative way using biofuel supplied by Raízen and a technology developed and manufactured by Hytron, which currently belongs to the German Neuman & Esser Group (NEA Group), with support from SENAI CETIQT’s SENAI Institute for Innovation in Biosynthetics and Fibers, and Shell’s funding. “We are excited to see that a project that began as a dream of students within the university is now becoming a high-impact solution for the energy transition in Brazil and the world,” said Hytron’s CEO, Marcelo Veneroso.

Currently, hydrogen is predominantly used in the chemical industry and is produced from natural gas in industrial units close to refineries. In the future, H2 produced from renewable electricity, such as solar and wind, is expected to play a critical role in the decarbonization of several industrial and heavy transport segments. However, the transport of this product is complex, since it requires compression or liquefaction for storage in cylinders or trucks, making logistics more expensive. In light of that, the production of hydrogen through ethanol conversion constitutes an advance in the availability of renewable fuels through a new technological route for the expansion of sustainable solutions in Brazil and in the world. “This is a pioneering initiative for large-scale production of renewable hydrogen from ethanol,” summarized Julio Romano Meneghini, executive and scientific director of USP’s Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Innovation (RCGI).

“Local, decentralized, low-investment production of renewable hydrogen through ethanol reform is an interesting alternative for sectors such as heavy transport, in which the use of this solution, whose availability and scalability are essential, have a significant growth perspective. In addition to heavy transport, we are currently looking for partners who are interested in applying this technology for the decarbonization of other industries,” said Mateus Lopes, Raízen’s director of Energy Transition and Investments. Together with Shell, the company will be responsible for leading the development of the market of H2 from ethanol.

Through this agreement for the production of green hydrogen, the companies are entering a new phase in the production of renewable energy, contributing to the decarbonization of the economy and expanding their product portfolios. “This technology can be easily installed at conventional gas stations, without requiring changes in the distribution infrastructure, ensuring that hydrogen will be ready to fuel vehicles quickly and safely,” explained Alexandre Breda, Shell Brasil’s Low Carbon Energy Manager and Vice Executive Director of the RCGI. “The use of hydrogen is not restricted to the transport sector and will benefit other segments in Brazil, when it comes to replacing fossil energy sources,” he said. The project will be financed by Shell Brasil, through the ANP Research and Development clause, with an investment of approximately R$ 50 million.

Through the production of hydrogen from ethanol, the partner companies and institutions are entering a new phase in the production of renewable fuels, contributing to decarbonization not only of the transport sector, but also of the steel, mining and agribusiness segments. “Ethanol production in Brazil began in the 1950s and received important incentives between the 1980s and 2000s, when we reduced our dependence on gasoline,” said Marcos Buckeridge, a researcher at the RCGI considered an international authority on bioenergy. “Between 2000 and 2020, we started producing second-generation ethanol and entered a second phase. Now, we must take a new step in this success story.”

“USP will become a major research laboratory in the area of ​​renewable energy and sustainable development. This project will study the energy feasibility of obtaining hydrogen from ethanol and using it in buses, and the solutions found can be transferred to our cities. It has been fundamental for USP to partner with companies that value scientific research as a means of social transformation,” said Carlos Gilberto Carlotti Junior, dean of USP.